Friday, November 30, 2018

1848 -- What a Year!

What are the most important years in world history over the last 200 years? For those of us in the U.S., no doubt 1941 and 1945, the beginning and ending of World War II, would be at the top of the list—and also the war years of 1917 and 1918 as well as 1861 and 1865 for USAmericans. But 1848 was also a year of great significance.
The U.S. in 1848
** In January, gold found in California led to the Gold Rush. Approximately 300,000 prospectors and others trekked to California—and in 1850 California became a state. But, sorrowfully, in those two years perhaps as many as 100,000 Native people were killed.
** On February 2, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the Mexican-American War and ceding to the United States virtually all of what became the southwestern US. (Click here to see what a huge section of the country that was.)
(That war had been opposed by Abraham Lincoln, as seen, for example, in his January 1848 speech, linked to here.)
** In July, the Seneca Falls Convention was held in New York. It was the first ever woman’s rights convention held in the U.S. That significant gathering was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (My 11/10/15 blog article about Stanton mentions the 1848 convention.)
Europe in 1848 
** The year 1848 is well-treated in Mike Rapport’s 2009 book 1848: Year of Revolution. The abstract (here) for the University of Glasgow professor’s book begins, “In 1848, Europe was engulfed in a firestorm of revolution.”  
According to Rapport, three of the intertwining issues in the European revolutions of 1848 were nationalism; “bitter, often violent, political polarisation”; and the “social question,” that is, the “abject misery of both urban and rural people” (p. x).
In his conclusion, Rapport writes, “The revolutions were seen subsequently as failures, but one should not be too pessimistic. . . . Perhaps the most important achievement was the abolition of serfdom” (p. 400).
** As a precursor to some of the 1848 revolutions and instigator of later revolutions in the world, Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels was published in February 1848. It was a 23-page pamphlet written in German. (The first English translation was published in 1850, and a more recent English translation is available here ).
Marx and Engels were only 30 and 28 years old at the time, and their thinking and activities leading up to the writing of the Manifesto are interestingly portrayed in the 2017 movie “The Young Karl Marx.”
As has been broadly cited, the preamble of the Manifesto begins, “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism.” And then the first paragraph of the first chapter, “Bourgeois and Proletarians,”  is brief and to the point: “The history of all hitherto existing society [that is, all written history] is the history of class struggles.”
Ongoing Issues since 1848
The class struggles Marx and Engels alluded to were seen in the 1848 revolutions—and have been evident, at least to many people, in countries around the world up to the present.
Rapport states that the 1848 revolutions “witnessed the fatal consequences of the perennial tension between . . . the [classical] liberal emphasis on political freedom and civil liberty and . . . the socialist stress on social justice” (p. 407).
While the expressions of the polar tension are not as extreme today, 170 years later, aren’t we still witnessing the same tension in the rhetoric and actions of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats?


  1. As always, I appreciated the thoughtful comments received from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your observations about the pivotal year of 1848.

    "Perhaps even greater than the class struggle is the struggle for the full dignity of members of marginalized groups. Class struggle has never been as big an issue in the U.S. as in Europe, but because of our greater ethnic and racial diversity, we have been more focused on civil rights for people of color, women, homosexual persons, and immigrants (although Europe is not immune to these struggles). But the struggle is not over, either here or elsewhere. One can cite many examples across the globe where the civil rights, dignity, and even lives of minority groups (and in a few cases, even majority groups) are not respected. Many of these struggles have little to do with the class struggle a la Marx.

    Peace--and dignity for all."

    1. Eric, I agree that class struggles have not been as apparent in the U.S. as in Europe--or in Central and South America, as attested to by the liberation theologians.

      Nevertheless, in the past the fight for labor unions, the fight against child labor, and many of the New Deal policies enacted by FDR--and the strong opposition to those policies--indicate that there have, in fact, also been class struggles in this country.

      Further, it seems to me that many of the problems now attributed to racism are, rather, problems of classism.

      It is a few years old, but the following article on "Class Struggle in the USA" is worth a read:

  2. The world always seems to be a place of struggles. Occasionally issues become noted, some eclipsing others in public knowledge. Typically the press prefers one struggle over another. Frequently the Church splits, each side claiming it better represents God in the name of "justice", or "Christ". And yet as Eric notes, many struggles are not with economics - one common and enduring practice where I grew up was to eat the body parts of albinos - one did not need to kill them (although that is still common), but just cannibalize their parts to gain spiritual power over others - most common among national political leaders (and many claim to be "Christian" or "Muslim" as well). But here it is just as easy to develop heresies (such as "racism", or any other pet "-ism") in order to excommunicate those one most hates. Is it time for God just to damn us all, and all of history? Maybe He could just start again. But then I once again see much goodwill especially among average, everyday people who receive the tirades of those trying to force their pet change.

    I have also read the Communist Manifesto (and studied economics more than most in college), and seen its devastation play out in "African Socialism" through governmental design (with AK-47s) through the imperial tutelage of China, Cuba, and the USSR - the people were ready for a return of the European empires. This economic theory of human behavior is based on feelings rather than science or mathematics. Empires and tyrants have been with us from the beginning - they just change hands, and continue.

    As with US politics invading the Church from all sides with hidden agendas, the global Church also frequently picks their preferred tyrant or empire to support, with results just as devastating and deadly. Church World Service was one of those entities when I was growing up. History and experience certainly makes one cynical. Sadly, we tend to be fed one version of history which shapes our worldview.

    And yet "...I believe in the holy catholic Church...", and that "...Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead..." God save us.

  3. Thanks for all your researches. Quite informative. Thanks.

  4. Yesterday morning I had a brief chat with local Thinking Friend Harold Philips, who has long been a CBF leader in Missouri and has worked for/with the Roma people of Europe. He commented on this blog article and said that 1848 was the year that the Roma people, formerly known by the now shunned name Gypsies, were freed from slavery in Romania.

    Indeed, that is one reason 1848 was an important one--especially for that segment of the population of Europe.